It would seem some Christians, including elders and gospel preachers, are becoming increasingly comfortable with not extending a public invitation to obey the gospel when concluding a gospel sermon. Some tell us the practice of offering a public invitation is a relatively recent phenomenon. This is so within the context of an historical analysis of denominations and their "altar call." But, what establishes truth is not the historical practices of American denominations (or the practices within Restoration history over the past 200 years). The question we wish to find the Bible answer to is whether we have Bible authority to offer a public invitation? Is it scriptural to urge sinners to "come forward" in response to the gospel we preach and their need to reply to it? If such exists, should we not do so? Put another way, what if we do not offer the gospel invitation when we preach? Are we following the Bible pattern by not doing so? And if so, which Scripture(s) provide such a pattern of abstinence?
I am not aware of any brethren who currently say we should not offer a gospel invitation when we preach. To my knowledge, no one is saying the public invitation is unauthorized and against the will of God. Yet, we do hear of more and more preaching that ends without extending any kind of invitation to the audience to obey the gospel. Many others conclude with the general summation, "if you have a need, come forward while we stand and sing" (with either explaining the "need" or what will happen if one comes forward). Why the growing absence of the gospel invitation in our preaching?
Some brethren are being convinced that the public invitation to obey the gospel is optional; a late arrival on the preaching scene. And, one that is designed more as an emotional display rather than a genuine response of faith and obedience to Christ. While the "origin of the 'public invitation'" among the denominations was no doubt associated with unbiblical emotionalism and other false teachings (including how to be saved), the public invitation to be saved did not originate in frontier America.
Could it be that the gospel invitation is becoming extinct in some pulpits because preaching has taken on an air of academia that is void of pressing appeals to "repent or perish"? Preaching has become giving a lecture, presenting a paper, offering a viewpoint and analyzing a position instead of heralding forth the gospel with its needed and necessary reproof, rebuke and exhortations that call sinners to urgent repentance (2 Tim. 4:2-4; 2 Cor. 6:2; Heb. 3:12-13; Acts 2:40). We would do well to recall that telling or hearing some new thing is not gospel preaching, but the ruminations of this-world oriented philosophers (Acts 17:21, 30-34). Such exercises do not typically lend themselves to declaring absolute truth and obedience to it in order to be saved (Acts 17:30). When preachers are advertised for their Ph.D.'s and academic achievements, is it God's word or man's accomplishments being offered up as proof of credibility? These are not the identifying marks of an evangelist (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Why then are they used to identify preachers today?
What does the Scripture say about the origin of the public invitation to obey the gospel? The first gospel sermons preached after the ascension of Jesus made public appeals to sinners, inviting them to "call on the name of the Lord" in order to be saved (Acts 2:21-22, 36-39). "And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation'" (Acts 2:40). That is the origin of the public gospel invitation.
Our Master said, "Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Jesus publicly invited people to come to Him. We may confidently follow His example and invite sinners to come to Him to be saved. We must.
The 3,000 souls who gladly received the word of God on Pentecost had to identify themselves to the apostles in some way, else they would not have known who wanted to be baptized (Acts 2:41). Whether by raising their hand, "coming forward" or "going to the rear," it makes no difference. They identified themselves as believers who wanted to be saved (repent and be baptized) by publicly responding to the apostles' public call to be saved.
Other gospel invitations (both public and private) could be noted: Acts 3:19-26; 8:5-8; 8:35-37; 13:43; 22:15-16; 24:24-25; 26:20; 28:27-29. These show the gospel being preached with a plea being made to sinners to respond. Sinners were invited (urged, persuaded, exhorted, instructed) to immediately obey the gospel. Do we?
We are not binding a "church of Christ tradition" or mimicking American evangelicalism when we publicly invite sinners to come to Christ. Preaching the gospel demands that we do so (2 Tim. 4:2). When we preach the word we must identify the sin (reprove), present the need for change (rebuke), and urge sinners to obey the gospel plan of salvation (exhort). Do not let any preaching opportunity pass without inviting sinners to obey the gospel. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:11).
- The Spirit's Sword, 1/15/12